WHEN last Thursday the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers Association issued a strike notice directing its members to stop hauling foodstuff and livestock to the Southern states of the country until a compensation of N475billion was paid to the members for losses incurred due to the persistent herders crisis, many dismissed the development with a wave of the hand.
Regrettably the union later made good its threat by stopping the supply of foodstuff and livestock to the Southern part of the country, thereby creating artificial scarcity of such products leading to sudden surge in prices of the items. Interestingly, shortly after the strike notice was issued, many had expected farmers in Benue State, known as the Food Basket of the Nation, to join forces with their counterparts in the far North to enforce the blockade to actualise the desired biting effect, but that was not the case.
Feelers from across the state, famous for the massive production of yam tubers, cassava, rice, palm fruit, cereal and grains as well as fruits, indicated that farmers and foodstuff dealers in the state shunned the protests and are daily hauling foodstuff to the South and all other parts of the country.
In fact, Benue which is a major gateway to the South East and the Northern part of the country has ceaselessly witnessed daily movement of truck loads of edibles from hundreds of rural markets scattered across the state to the South East and up North while the popular Wurukum roundabout has continued to witness high volume of vehicular movements from several rural communities of the state and neighbouring states in the Middle Belt to states in the South East and down South.
For farmers and traders in farm produce in the state, it is business as usual, as they say they cannot be part of any mischievous plot to frustrate their sources of livelihood to please those who care less about the well-being of other Nigerians.
Speaking on why Benue farm produce will continually flood the markets in the Southern parts of the country, the state chapter chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Comrade Saaku Aondongu, said Benue farmers were too knowledgeable to be deceived by people who did not mean well for others.
Comrade Aondongu told Arewa Voice: “Benue produces foodstuff for consumption in the entire country. We do not produce for our personal consumption alone. So we must move our produce first to the East who are our neighbours and then to other parts of the country because what we produce here are in high demand across the country and the consumers will continue to get them for as long as we produce.
“We have no problems with the people in the East and other parts of the country; so our farm produce will continue to flow to reach them no matter what. Moreover, if we don’t sell our produce to other Nigerians, how do we recoup our investment? How will our people earn their living because here in Benue, aside the federal allocation, most of what we earn come from our farms. You will also recall that Benue has suffered a lot of herdsmen attacks leading to the death of thousands of our innocent farmers.
We are carrying our pains just like the people in the South who are now witnessing what we suffered over the years.
“So, we cannot be seen to be protesting with those who called the strike when we are still suffering the brunt of years of herdsmen attacks in our state and still have hundreds of thousands of our people in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps located in parts of the state as a result of the herdsmen incursions which left our people who are mainly farmers displaced from their ancestral homes and now spending their lifetime in IDPs camps in terrible conditions.
“So, as far as we are concerned, the purpose for the strike is not convincing and meant to please selected self-seeking few. And my question is how long will it last? Once the rains set in there will be more production and if you do not sell what will you do with your yield? What is the meaning of farming if we produce and do not sell? So, the more we produce the much we sell. Nobody will tell us in Benue to embark on blockade of food items meant for other parts of the country because it will not fly here.
“We will continue to sell our farm produce to the Easterners who are our immediate neighbours and other parts of the country because that is the reason we are known as the Food Basket of the Nation, and anything to the contrary is not acceptable.
They should know that we also have our grievances in Benue considering the number of our members that have been killed by armed herdsmen, but we have not resorted to blockade because it will serve no useful purpose and might even become counter-productive at the end of the day.”
Benue State Chairman of National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers, Mr. Dominic Dekera, on his part told Arewa Voice it would be foolhardy for yam farmers in the state to stop the haulage of yam tubers from the state to other parts of the country when they would at the end of the day be at the receiving end in the event of a glut in local markets.
Dekera said: “It will be unwise for us to start thinking of embarking on blockade in order not to supply or sell our farm produce to states in the South. Of what benefit will that be to yam farmers in Benue when that is the source of the livelihood of the farmers. So if we do not sell the produce to the eventual consumers, what do we do with the yams we invested so much to produce because it would flood the local markets and there will be no one to buy since we all produce yams.
“Moreover, our question is: what is the real motive of the people who are championing the agitation and what do they intend to achieve at the end? For us in Benue State, if that order is coming from our governor we will listen but certainly not from some persons who are not known to us and we do not know what they stand for. And our question is: did they issue the same order when thousands of our people were killed and sacked from their farms and ancestral homes by herdsmen?
“Do you know that majority of our farmers are still living in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps and cannot access their farmlands till today and the Federal Government has not done anything about their plight? At the peak of the killings in Benue when thousands of our farmers lost their lives to the invaders, did anybody declare a blockade to protest the killings and the billions of Naira our people have lost in the massacre.
“We cannot, therefore, be part of any agitation that is embarked upon out of the parochial interest of a few who do not mean well for our farmers and country at large; that will be the peak of foolishness.”